By Mark Whicker
No one else in sports is Master and Commander.
Floyd Mayweather Jr. never loses. He makes the most money. He bets outrageously on sports, and successfully, and yet even gets to walk around the lower bowl of the Final Four.
He emerges for two fights a year, at most, and yet he carries boxing. Pay-per-view would probably be dead, as a practical medium, without him. He never has to leave the comforts of the MGM Grand, where a banner shows his picture and proclaims itself “Home Of The Champion,” no matter who is actually boxing there.
He samples the finer things lavishly and yet he doesn’t seem to get bogged down by the bad things. He even went to the joint for a while and came out unchanged and even emboldened.
He polarizes, but yet they idolize. More than anything, Mayweather is the hero of the street because he has his world in complete control.
You might say that’s easy to do when Mayweather is surrounded by five bodyguards that would dwarf any NFL offensive line. “Tighten up,” Mayweather told them when he left a gathering of reporters at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in L.A. Thursday and walked across the street to a public gathering at Pershing Square. But Mayweather soars above all the questions and contradictions. He is the man in charge.
Except, on May 4, he wasn’t.
Not for a long time in his unexpectedly desperate fight with Marcos Maidana.
He ran into the one opponent that did what trainer Robert Garcia asked him to do and what Freddie Roach had often said Mayweather’s opponents must start doing. Hit him everywhere. On top of the head, in the ribs, below the belt, behind the neck. Any piece of skin that Mayweather exposed was going to get belted by Maidana.
Mayweather’s vaunted shoulder-roll defense was not much help to his ribs and other prized body parts. Eventually he managed to push Maidana far enough away to hit him. Since Maidana was packing 170 pounds, he couldn’t handle the pace of his own attack. Still, Mayweather and Maidana were scored 114-114 on one card, and Mayweather wound up with a majority decision.
Now, Canelo Alvarez also got a 114-114 verdict against Mayweather, but that judge, C.J. Ross, basically lost her job because of it. Canelo also got four rounds on another card. Other than that, none of Mayweather’s opponents ever won more than three rounds on any card in Mayweather’s past four decisions.
Maidana and Mayweather will fight again in Sept. 13. For Maidana, it is not just an honor to share Mayweather’s canvas. He has been short-sold throughout his career and brings unbridled contempt into the ring.
Now Mayweather is firing back, the way he did in the days when he was truly concerned about losing. He questioned how Garcia could plan a successful game plan when “I beat the guy (Diego Corrales) who beat him.”
“I felt it was a privilege to fight Diego Corrales,” Garcia said. “I can sit with my kids and watch that fight and talk about it. Mayweather can’t do that with his kids. If he tried, they would fall asleep.”
Mayweather turned 37 in February. Any skill erosion would be logical and would start with his legs. He doesn’t win with footwork anymore. He relies on his right hand, underrated for too long. His chin is also better than people think, if you remember how he shook off a kill shot from Shane Mosley.
But there was real panic in Mayweather’s left eye when his right eye was cut by a clash of heads with Maidana. The fact that he had gone that long without seeing his own blood might be the most remarkable thing about him.
“Where’s the rest of that 1996 Olympic team?” Mayweather asked gleefully on Thursday. “I guess they all should have been defensive fighters.”
Bob Arum quietly insists that Manny Pacquiao will fight Mayweather someday, but the years are growing short. Now that Pacquiao has revived himself with very sharp wins over Brandon Rios and Tim Bradley, Mayweather wants less of Pacquiao than ever.
Going undefeated is not just a statistic to Mayweather. It is lifeblood. Being surpassed by anybody in anything is unthinkable and unacceptable. After all, this is the guy who visits the Miami Heat camp and has LeBron James sitting there and listening. The reverse of that does not happen.
Mayweather has 46 victories, and three more fights on his Showtime deal. Whether he can resist the temptation of trying for 50-0 is dubious. The question is whether Mayweather can find marketable pay-per-view opponents who can’t beat him.
Pacquiao’s name came up Thursday and Mayweather dismissed him, calling him “that dude.” But he also admitted to watching Pacquiao’s fight with Bradley. “I didn’t pay for it, though,” he said. He did pay to watch Miguel Cotto tear apart Sergio Martinez.
“Yeah, that Martinez, that was the guy who was going to beat me,” Mayweather said. “But then I beat (Juan Manuel) Marquez and he was over the hill, and then he beat that dude (Pacquiao)…It’s like Forrest Gump said. Life is a box of chocolates and you never know what you’re gonna get.”
Mayweather and Maidana spread their trash talk across America, a media tour designed to whip up the PPV numbers. Mayweather-Maidana in May did 900,000 buys, as did Mayweather-Guerrero. The Canelo fight did 2.2 million after a fervid promotion.
A rematch with Canelo is endangered by the Golden Boy split, in which Richard Schaefer has joined forces with Mayweather, and Oscar De La Hoya remains Canelo’s man. In the public’s mind, Mayweather is winding up his career with the Bum-of-the-Equinox club.
That is why the September fight is as much of a crossroads as a deceleration lane for Mayweather.
“It was an easy fight the first time,” Mayweather said. “Anybody can come in there with a windmill style. I got hit some, sure, but he missed an awful lot.
“People talk about other fighters. Kell Brook? Never heard of him. Tim Bradley? I have heard of him. Shawn Porter? Seen him a little bit. But by the time any of them are ready, I’ll be gone.”
The most indisputable thing Mayweather says is that, when that day comes, boxing will struggle mightily to replace him. That was also said when Ali left, and when Leonard left, and when Tyson went away, and when De La Hoya retired.
But there are no cavalry hoofbeats to be heard this time, and no reason for the lovers or the haters to see Mayweather head over that hill. Maidana is an admirable scrapper, but the best minds of the sport, on Sept. 13, will be whispering, so softly they might not even hear themselves: Come on, Floyd. Tighten up.
Mark Whicker has covered sports in Southern California for 27 years.